Monpazier, the best-preserved bastide in France, was fortified in 1284 by Edward I, in the days when the writ of the English kings ran throughout the Dordogne. Around the marketplace, near the centre of this medieval masterpiece, the arcaded houses are all the same size, 26ft wide and 66ft deep. They have survived against the odds, as the narrow passages between them, intended as a firebreak, usually contained a mixture of kindling wood and piles of rubbish.
The Halle, whose wooden frame dates from the 14th century, is supported by wooden pillars set in piles of huge stones. The grain measures, used by the overseer to determine prices at the market, are still visible in a 15th century desk. Rusty old tin buckets are all that remain of the original weighing station for wheat and jars of oil.
Three gates open onto narrow streets, perched on a hill with half-timbered houses, many a delightful blend of white and yellow ochre. In the heart of this village, designated one of the most beautiful in France, is its commercial pulse, la Place des Cornières. Here fashionable cafés and friendly boutiques vie for your custom, while food stalls offer the local delicacies: mushrooms, cherries and sweet chestnuts.
Perhaps Monpazier’s most famous visitor, T.E. Lawrence, the future Lawrence of Arabia, arrived in 1908 during a tour of French castles. His huge room, with carved furniture, a glorious Renaissance window and a library of ancient texts, cost him a mere one franc fifty. But he said of Monpazier rather sadly that it was a “little town fast going to ruin”, as the population was then in rapid decline. Lawrence would have been astonished to see Monpazier in today’s high season, when it is all but bursting with the throngs of visitors.
Restaurant on the square Main square
Weighing station The Halle